Are You Letting Past Relationship Shame Hinder Your Happiness?

Relationships Advice: How To Let Go Of Your Past

We all logically know that everyone makes mistakes — and the areas of dating, romance and relationships are certainly no excpetion! Logic often fails in matters of the heart. As a matchmaker and dating coach, I talk to people everyday about their relationship past, present, and hopes for the future. One striking similarity is how sheepish or embarrassed some people become when talking about their past relationships.

The self-consciousness they feel covers a variety of situations. Some have plenty of past relationships they are proud to discuss, but there might be one ex or an aspect of some relationship they hesitate to talk about, or even refuse to talk about entirely. Some are visibly embarrassed by how long it's been since their last relationship. Others are embarrassed to have been divorced, sometimes more than once. Some have never been in a committed relationship and feel uncomfortable admitting that, for fear of being judged as having something wrong with them because they are chronically single. I met a woman who has had a long string of intense, committed relationships and she was embarrassed about what people might think about her having had so many boyfriends without having ever been married. She was embarrassed by not being a "closer."

Sometimes it's the circumstances of previous relationships that cause the embarrassment. I've met people with a history of being in adulterous relationships that they are not proud of, and hesitate to discuss freely. Some parents who are no longer with the mother or father of their child are embarrassed to have never been married, or to have had children with more than one person.

Whatever your history, there are people with similar circumstances, and also people with wildly different circumstances who are also dealing with what their past says about who they are. This is all about perspective. You might think your divorce labels you as a failure, and your neighbor might be obsessed with the fact that no one has ever accepted his marriage proposals. Self-love and acceptance are key. Whatever your history, those experiences have brought you to who and where you are today.

If you are divorced, you are certainly not alone. We've all heard the statistics: estimates of between 40-50 percent of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. According to the American Psychological Association, the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. Bottom line: having one or more failed marriages doesn't make you a pariah!

If you haven't been in a relationship in a long time — or ever — you are also not alone. The U.S. Census reports the number of unmarried adult singles over the age of 18 was 102 million in 2011. That's 44 percent of all U.S. adults. Sure, there are those who are in committed relationships included in that number, and certainly those who have had them in the past. But even in my experience, as just one person, I've met many adults who have either been unattached for the majority or for the entirety of their lives. If you're single, you're in good company!

Infidelity is a tough one, because very few people will openly admit to infidelity. For most, infidelity takes an emotional toll on multiple people: the ones in the committed relationship, as well as the outside party. But if you have been unfaithful in the past, you are not alone. Recent statistics tell us that 21 percent of men have admitted to adultery, and 14.7 percent of women. That's not an insignificant number of people, and chances are, adultery has affected most of us in one way or the other. My advice? In the future, make a different choice and forgive yourself for your past indiscretions. Holding on to guilt won't help unless it results in a meaningful change in your behavior.

Single Parent?
Approximately 12.2 million families in the U.S. were led by a single parent in 2012. That's a lot of mothers and fathers who are no longer with the other parent of their child for various reasons. Single parenting has become very common, and many people are even actively choosing single parenthood. Chances are, most people aren't judging your situation as harshly as you are.

All of this boils down to a simple fact: whether any of these issues are part of your relationship history, or challenges such as substance abuse, emotional or physical abuse or just a string of terrible exes have you feeling embarrassed about your past, know that no one is proud of every relationship they've been a part of. We've all made mistakes, and we're all sensitive about our romantic choices. You are certainly under no obligation to broadcast the skeletons in your closet to those who might judge you. But do know that the most important person whose acceptance you need is yours!

What do you think? Do you have any past relationships you cringe to think about, much less discuss with others? Or are you an open book about your past? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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